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The Right to Death and The Death with Dignity Act

By Liz Swain, VI Form

The Right to Death and The Death with Dignity Act

Ethics and the law have clashed numerous times in history. What one believes is right and justifiable may not be so under federal law. Laws against physician assisted death have been heavily debated for with conflicting viewpoints. Physician assisted death occurs when a doctor prescribes a patient the necessary medication and dosage that would be lethal. The patient typically has a terminal illness and instead of slowly and painfully dying, the patient can choose to end his/her life in a peaceful and chosen way. Laws only permit physician-assisted death to be legal in five states: Oregon, Washington, Vermont, Montana, and New Mexico.[1] The Death with Dignity Act, allowing physician assisted death, should be ratified in all 50 states to allow someone to die on his/her own terms.

A doctor must take an oath to swear to do everything in his/her power to save patients. From that point on, all doctors are required by law to save the lives of patients in whatever manner necessary. Thus, prescribing drugs to kill a patient per that patient’s request is, technically, against a doctor’s code. Death with Dignity views the situation differently; a doctor is not breaking the law by giving up on a patient and killing the individual, rather a doctor is following a separate law and granting a patient’s medical wish.

Imagine sitting in a hospital bed waiting for death to overrule your body. You have accepted the fact you will die and whether it happens in two days or two months, you know it is inevitable. You have a choice, however, to choose to slowly wither away in agony or to discontinue life-sustaining treatment and take sleep inducing lethal pills. The choice should be determined by the patient who is facing death; the individual should have the option to choose what type of death to endure.

Brittany Maynard became the face of legalizing the Death with Dignity Act in the fall of 2014. She was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer in January of 2014 with a prognosis of 6 months to live – she had just turned 29 years old. The type of cancer Brittany had, glioblastoma multiforme, is the most aggressive type of brain cancer with few sufferers surviving more than three years, regardless of the treatment. Brittany and her family moved to Oregon, one of the states that ratified the Death with Dignity Act 17 years ago, so she could die on her own terms. On November 1, 2014, Brittany Maynard passed away peacefully at home with her family beside her after consuming life-ending medications.[2]

Brittany’s story raised awareness to the issue and provoked more discussion around the subject and its morality. Critics of the Act’s legalization claim it is unethical, an argument Brittany combatted with, “I believe this choice is ethical, and what makes it ethical is it is a choice.” The Death with Dignity Act empowers sufferers of terminal illnesses by making them the determiner of their own fate. Instead of diagnosing someone with a life ending disease and telling the patient how death may ensue, that patient should have options. Every single one of us is going to die one day, shouldn’t we have as much say as possible?

Liz Swain is a VI Form boarding student from Groton, MA.  She is a monitor, loves to act, and will be attending Colby College.

[1] Barone, Emily. “See Which States Allow Assisted Suicide.” Time. Time, 3 Nov. 2014. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://time.com/3551560/brittany-maynard-right-to-die-laws/&gt;.

[2] “About Brittany Maynard.” The Brittany Fund. Compassion & Choices, 1 Jan. 2015. Web. 23 Feb. 2015. <http://www.thebrittanyfund.org&gt;.



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